It’s the nightmare on NFL street, the ex-Browns taking on Bill Belchick for the right to get to the game Cleveland has never been in. How strange would it be if they get there some year soon with Michael Lombardi?
One of Michael Lombardi’s favorite quotes — the man loves quotes — comes from a native of a Cleveland suburb, Shaker Heights.
It is from Paul Newman, the late, great actor:
“If you don’t have enemies, you don’t have character.”
It remains to be seen which Newman film will be the best metaphor for Lombardi’s Cleveland sequel. Road to Perdition and Somebody Up There Likes Me would seem to reflect the range of possibilities.
The Browns’ new player personnel chief made a few enemies in Cuyahoga County while coursing through Browns regimes coached by Marty Schottenheimer, Bud Carson and Bill Belichick.
It was a cast of young characters, even after they had been together for a while. Its members are unfairly guilty by association with the sudden death of the team. The man who killed it, oddly, is up for Hall of Fame election in 13 days.
The pain of the move has quieted, certainly, but a dull ache returns on days such as these, when the ex-Browns are taking on Belichick with a Super Bowl at stake.
It is doubtful more than a few Ohioans watched the Browns’ joyless end as 1995 ran out. It was Christmas Eve. Lombardi was in Jacksonville, where Cleveland fell 24-21 to a first-year expansion team.
The ghost of Belichick’s past, and Lombardi’s, seems to visit each December. The 1995 team finished 5-11. Lombardi returns in a winter when the team was 5-11, the same record the Browns spat out in 2009, 2010 and 2012. Those were the good years (4-12 in 2008 and 2011).
The worst year was 1995.
“My heart was broken when I left, I’ll tell you,” Lombardi said the other day from the team complex, which looks much like it did in the 1990s.
“It was surreal coming in this building the last time. My wife and I had two children here ... a lot of history here.”
Part of that history was Lombardi, at age 33, squeezing out general manager Ernie Accorsi in 1993. Lombardi was promoted to player personnel director (his new title is vice president-player personnel).
One of the few old men in the building then — he wasn’t in it much longer — was the 29-year-old quarterback, Bernie Kosar. Kosar soon was banished under a judgment of “diminishing skills.” In 2013, Lombardi inherits a 29-year-old quarterback, Brandon Weeden.
The cast of coaches and personnel men in 1993 included Nick Saban, 42; Belichick, 41; Kirk Ferentz, 38; Ozzie Newsome, 37; Phil Savage, 28; Scott Pioli, 28, and George Kokinis, 26.
Lombardi is 53 now, older, wiser and — after a five-year absence from having a team — aiming for greatness without a great résumé.
Presumably, no Browns fan wishes to see him fail. Most seem skeptical of his ability to succeed.
Page 2 of 4 - At one point in Lombardi’s press conference Friday, CEO Joe Banner went out of his way to “elaborate a little bit on Mike’s qualifications.”
Banner began his piece by saying:
“Mike has worked here in Cleveland, obviously. You can dissect things, because there are always some things that you get right and wrong, but the team clearly improved during the time that Mike was here.”
During Belichick’s first four years, when Lombardi’s power increased, the Browns were 6-10, 7-9, 7-9 and 11-5 (1-1 in the postseason). Progress, yes, but it was no great achievement relative to the Schottenheimer era, when the Browns were 8-8, 12-4, 10-5 and 10-6 and lost two thrillers in AFC title games.
Lombardi needs to revive the Schottenheimer era (he was a scout in it in ’87 and ’88), not the Belichick days. On the other hand, Belichick’s one good year, 1994, would be better than anything that has hit Lake Erie since the team came back.
“The ’94 team had a lot of good players on it,” Lombardi said. “We made mistakes in the draft, there’s no mistake about that.
“It’s funny, when you scout, if you don’t learn from your mistakes, you’re going to make them again. We did that.
“Trust me, we’ve all looked at those drafts. Belichick and I sit together, and we talk about it, but we learn from it.”
The 1994 team beat New England in the wild-card round, but there was no storybook finish. The next game was a 29-9 loss at Pittsburgh.
Lombardi has talked about writing a book. He may not have time for that in a job that calls for winning in a town where the Browns were 40-58 from 1990-95, 5-27 from 1999-2000, 19-45 from 2003-06 and 23-57 from 2008-2012.
Only the 40-58 is on him, to some nebulous but notable extent.
There are similarities and one big difference in the paths Belichick and Lombardi followed after Art Modell invited neither to Baltimore.
Belichick was out of the head coaching ranks for five years, but he worked for two Bill Parcells’ teams in the NFL. Lombardi has been out of the personnel business for five years, when he has been a TV guy hanging out with Mike Mayock.
Mayock isn’t Parcells, but he likes Lombardi.
“What stands out most about Michael is his intelligence,” Mayock said. “Regardless of the endeavor, he has always shown a high level of intelligence and intuitiveness about his project.
“There is a process with Mike. He defines it and then he follows through on it. I think that is really important in the overall evaluation of rookies and pros at whatever level in football.
Page 3 of 4 - “At his core, I think he is a true evaluator. That is what that position demands more than anything ... somebody that can evaluate at the college level, at the pro level, at the free agent level and integrate all of those facets into one comprehensive program. I think Mike Lombardi can do all of that.”
Mayock is a media guy who used to be a Steelers defensive back. The joke going around is that Lombardi isn’t a general manager, but he played one on TV.
The Browns have been a joke. Lombardi will have to be seriously good if that is going to change.
The fairest, sanest approach would seem to be: Give the man a (second) chance.
HORTON VS. LeBEAU
Dick LeBeau, the grand old man of NFL defense, can’t be blamed for the Steelers’ slide to .500 in 2012.
LeBeau, 75, had Pittsburgh at No. 1 in total defense by a wide margin.
The Steelers allowed 275.8 yards a game, well ahead of No. 2 Denver (290.8).
LeBeau has long been a believer in Ray Horton, the new defensive coordinator of the Browns. LeBeau was a Bengals defensive coach throughout Horton’s run as a Cincinnati player (1982-88).
Horton broke into the NFL coaching ranks under Redskins head coach Norv Turner (1994-96), during which time LeBeau worked for the Steelers. When LeBeau returned to Cincinnati as a coordinator in 1997, he recruited Horton to go with him. Two years after LeBeau’s failed run as a Bengals head coach, he became a Steelers coordinator. Again, he arranged for Horton to join him.
Horton, 52, will be applying tricks he learned from LeBeau against the old master’s team as the Browns’ new defensive coordinator.
HORTON: THE CLOSER
Horton knew how to finish.
In his last game as an NFL player, he played for Dallas in Super Bowl XXVII, a 52-17 rout of Buffalo.
Four years earlier, in his last game with the Bengals, he returned punts against the 49ers in Super Bowl XXIII and was the Bengals’ third cornerback. The Bengals lost a late lead and fell 20-16.
In his last game as a Bengal in old Cleveland Municipal Stadium, on Oct. 30, 1988, he intercepted a Bernie Kosar pass.
One of the forgotten staff members of the last Browns team to win a playoff game might be a good addition to the 2013 staff.
Joe Kim was a Bay Village High School graduate who had started a martial arts school when Bill Belichick looked him up in 1992.
Belichick had been fascinated by Lawrence Taylor’s use of martial arts in his repertoire when they were together with the New York Giants. Belichick brought in Kim in 1992, largely to drill pass rushers in hand-to-hand combat techniques that translated to pass rushing.
Page 4 of 4 - The Browns moved. Kim’s reputation got him jobs with other teams. In 2005 and ’06, Kim worked for Nick Saban in Miami — Saban had been Belichick’s defensive coordinator in Cleveland.
Kim has worked with the Packers, Broncos, Bills, and most recently, the Chiefs.
He has maintained a residence and his martial arts school in Avon.
“My family is very supportive,” Kim said. “We run the school. Then, when the time comes, everybody understands ... it’s time for Joe to go do football.”
Kim’s dream job would be with the Browns. His attack-style techniques might be perfect for getting Jabaal Sheard over the hump.